My Brother is in Afghanistan, Coffee and Mosh Pits are the Best Parts of Waking Up, and my Best Friend is an Anarchist: PART ONE, I fell on my face for the rhetoric of empire. And spit teeth.

Dear few and cherished readers of this blog (I love you more than coffee and mosh pits):

Remember back in February when I was like, I’m gonna start a blog exploring what it means to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California from all enemies, foreign and domestic” because I want to remain loyal to the oath I took when I became a government employee? It’s okay if you don’t remember. I’m a big girl. I realize I’m not The World. Even if America doesn’t.

Well, anyway.

Screw that.

To explain metaphoric, non-sexual screwing, I’ll take you back hella dayz, circa the start of April.

DISCLAIMER:  I use dirty words.

I was storming off campus because I was fucking pissed. I know some could successfully argue that the volume of pissery was disproportionate to the situation, but manic fixations are manic fixations. A firm grasp on reality is not among its symptoms listed in the DSM-IV.

In my journalistic pursuit for the meaning of the Oath of Allegiance, I lost much sleep. I neglected academic obligations. I missed buses. With all the time we spent together, I was practically BFF with the unconsummated ringing of the DHS Public Comment Line. I've been labeled a domestic terrorist, a dork, and I have good reason to believe that, to at least two of the women who work in Payroll, I’m That Girl.

I had conversations with a lot of people and got a lot of responses, running the gamut from intelligent to witty to hollow and useless. I’ve been told that it’s optional. It’s conditional. It’s incredibly important, and it’s utterly meaningless. It’s a state thing, a federal thing, a post-9/11 thing. Payroll insisted that it has absolutely nothing to do with education and everything to do with not giving government information to terrorists. Another source said it signifies a duty to “defend English grammar to the death.” Others surmised that it requires me, in the event of encountering an unpatriotic term paper, to immediately report to my supervisor, who will in turn notify the feds by way of the direct line installed behind her desk, so that they may come to the English Lab and whisk the dissenter to a secret location where ...things will happen to them. Things we’d prefer not to know about.

As entertaining as the witty ones were, the sheer volume of unhelpful responses was getting to me. I was tired of veterans shrugging and saying they hadn’t given the Oath of Enlistment a second thought. As much as I love my colleagues, I was growing weary with the increasing number of tutors I spoke with who plumb don’t remember signing it at all.

Lots of swearing going down here. Not a lot of it solemn.

It meant something to me. It meant a lot. How could it mean nothing to all these other people?

On that fateful day of pissery, I was already approaching empty as I sat in the corridor outside the Anarchist’s history class, waiting to spot his mohawk in the stream of exiting students.

“Are you ready for how out of control this’s gotten?” I said to him. “I was ready to ditch oceanography – and it’s a very important day in oceanography! – to visit a professor’s office hours to talk about the Oath.”

He didn’t even blink. “I’ll go for you.”

…this is why I practically, not definitely became BFF with the DHS Comment Line ringing.

The DHS Public Comment Line doesn't stage dive at Anti-Flag shows.

I debriefed him, had him read the copy of the Oath I had on my person at all times – he got a good laugh out of the “without mental reservation” part – and proceeded to class. I spent seventy-five minutes not taking notes on, let alone paying attention to, the very important oceanography lecture; instead, turning over in furious contemplation* all Oath-related information I’d gathered.

Then I met up with the Anarchist.

And broke.

As previously stated, I already knew that, of all the swearing going down at Payroll, not much of it was solemn. Despite its fancy wording and loaded language, the oath fails to stir enough patriotism in most people for it to be anchored in their memory. Furthermore, I believed Payroll when they told me multiple times that it was a post-9/11 thing. I was ready to stick that information in a blogpost after I got home that afternoon, because enough people had told me that I believed it to be fact. So, imagine my surprise when I found out that countless people have been signing and forgetting this since THE FUCKING MCCARTHY WITCHUNTS! That’s over HALF A FUCKING CENTURY!**


This professor guy. Who remembers signing it vividly, and whose friend was fired for not signing it back in the seventies.

That bloody terrorist...

The Anarchist continued to recap the visit, reporting that it doesn’t mean anything, and it can’t mean anything. The only people it could possibly, maybe apply to are our military, and even then, the only enemies there could be are suspected enemies – you know, like Dorothy Parker – or spies, and the Constitution is an American legal document, and despite all delusions, America is not The World. You can’t impose or defend the Constitution where it is not law. Even if it was a legal document in Canada, Afghanistan, Italy, wherever… it wouldn’t even be our place to defend it because it’s NOT OUR COUNTRY. Sovereignty. Look it up.

No one’s willing to get rid of the oath.

It doesn’t mean anything.

It could never mean anything.

“It could literally apply to you never,” the Anarchist told me. “Yes, you can quote me on that.”

“Puppies turn into dogs. Who grow old. And die.”

It wasn’t like someone had proven to me that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. It was like watching Santa Claus get shot in the fucking face.

I was in a one-sided relationship. America would never love me back, especially not to the unhealthy measures to which I had loved it. Nobody really seemed to care. Not enough to remember. And the unhealthy measures… yeah, you could point to that and roll your eyes and discredit.

You could be like, geez, Kathryn. Don’t take it so personally.

It’s just a piece of paper. A dead legal document.

Frankly, my disappointment, however exaggerated it appears to be, isn’t totally ungrounded. I started off on this project because I actually, really felt like I had a duty to fulfill. It’s not like the Oath is some sober, cut-and-dry business contract that lays out x, y and z: here are the stipulations, here’s what’s expected of you, here’s what you can expect from us, sign and date.

It’s abstract idealism and loaded language. Start talking about swearing oaths, and putting faith (it does use that word) in something or other… that’s fucking personal. It’s emotional manipulation.

Santa is dead. Puppies will die. You are not a unique and beautiful snowflake.

As I stormed off campus. I had half a mind to turn back and run through the faculty offices until I found a history / sociology / whatever teacher and ask, trying not to scream, although that’s all I could do in my head, “SINCE MCCARTHY! WHAT THE FUCK?!?!” And really, “Why would they do this to me?” Why would they lead me on?

But mostly the screaming.

Then I ran into Jake.

* Assuming one can contemplate with ferocity…

** As it turns out, a more careful Google search would have revealed this to me. But I’m not sorry I asked, like, everyone and their mother first, because I would have missed out on such gems as my hypothetical domestic terrorism, and a sergeant recruiting outside the bookstore telling me that it’s my constitutional right to purchase vanilla lattes. That guy was nice.


  1. Good Post Kathryn...

    I knew people who had to take the oath of allegiance, and they said it was BS as well. I find it symbolic in a different way. Many immigrants who come to this country have an idealized view of America through media and hearsay. It's not until one comes to this country that he/she realizes just what this country is about. It's not a bad thing, at least not to me, but it's definitely not as advertised through exported movies, TV shows, and documentaries.

    This post reminded me so much of going to college and how I practically lived in the English department office. English degree. Ugh. I remember graduating with that degree and being unemployed for 6 long months before I finally found something completely outside my field. The more the world turns, the more "English major" and "unemployed" becomes synonymous.

    Good post

    1. Thanks, Roger! It's always great to hear back from those who read my post(s).

      How else did you find the oath symbolic?

      Yeah, I guess English isn't the most lucrative discipline. Did you emphasize in literature?

    2. I emphasized in nothing actually. I was simply looking for the fastest way to get a degree while working two jobs, and writing was the only subject I was good at.

      The oath itself isn't really symbolic of much to me, but I'm more interested in the people that have to say it. There's a trend that started way back in the 1920s, where immigrants knew and understand more about America than those that were born here.

      That trend still exists, and it's interesting to me how those that understand and love and appreciate the concepts of the United States are forced to take an oath of allegiance. I would say that there are some that are born in the United States that need to take the pledge more than immigrants.

      I'm speaking in generalities, of course

    3. Taking the pledge is easy. Following through on supporting and defending the Constitution is the hard part. Especially when they don't tell you what it means to support and defend.

    4. Yeah that's where they get you. They make it wonderfully vague so that they can put some crazy stuff under that big umbrella. Nevertheless, I believe the pros far outweigh the cons, but specificity would be nice

  2. Hey Kathryn,
    Did you ever check out those websites I linked to you on the argument between originalist and non-originalist interpretations of the Constitution? Because that certainly adds another layer to the oath, IMO. Interpretation continues to be a source of vehement debate, you know. I've had to sign the stupid thing, too, and I always think, "Whose interpretation of the Constitution?" Mine, clearly. So no problem, I guess. :) Of course, in my interpretation of the Constitution the 14th Amendment applies the Bill of Rights to every one of the 50 states, which currently is not actually the reality. It's unconscionable, considering some states still ignore little things like TRIAL BY JURY, etc.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Sophia!

      I plumb don't remember those websites (like some people and the oath). If you're at all inclined to re-refer me, I'd be more than happy to look at them.

      When you say the Fourteenth Amendment isn't applied in all 50 states, is this a reflection of your past residency in the South?

  3. I'm so glad I got to meet the Anarchist! What an awesome friend.

    SINCE FREAKING MCCARTHY?! Swearing is applicable!

    I feel it is relevant to point out that "idealism" has morphed into a derogatory (or at best, a scoffing) term to embody impassioned naïvite. It's one thing to be naïf, it's another to actually believe in the importance of honor/taking oaths/defending the defenseless/etc. Any ideal that has fallen out of the social consciousness is part of "idealism," whereas ideals that are still IN the social consciousness (like Independence and Freedom and Vanilla Lattes) AREN'T TALKED ABOUT AT ALL unless they seem to be in danger of falling away.

    Good stuff!

    1. Many hearty thanks for your generosity in comment-age, Noel!

      What do you think the difference between naïvite and ignorance is? If there is a difference at all - now that I think about it, there probably isn't - is it a matter of how intentional we are in lacking social consciousness?

      I know plenty of folks who are intentionally closed off to being informed, because certain things going on are depressing, and the effort that would be required to put real change in motion can be intimidating. But then there are other folks I've met who are uninformed on issues (myself included - the Anarchist will talk about stuff and I'll be like, holy crap, since when?), but not with blatant, conscious intention. Some of the latter who I've met, after being informed about one thing or another, have genuinely cared and not been promptly consumed with the desire to run clear in the other direction with their fingers in their ears.

    2. And, yeah, isn't he great?! Introducing him to the TLC crew, and vice versa, meant a lot to me.

  4. I forgot to get follow-up commas via email, so here I am. Better late than never!

    This is what I've figured so far:

    The main difference between ignorance and naïvite has to do with the reaction to new information and experiences. "Naïve" generally means inexperienced but open-minded, whereas "ignorant" means empty-brained and closed-minded. Naïve people can be highly educated or uneducated; the issue is the level of experience. "Ignorant" people can also be educated or uneducated, but they refuse to alter previously-held suppositions with the addtion of contrary experiences. I usually hear only people who are considered bigots or racists labeled "ignorant."

    I'm not sure I would label those who shelter themselves as ignorant . . . maybe just sheltered. Here are reasons for keeping yorself insulated to a certain extent. C. S. Lewis believed that we were in fact supposed to do this: becoming overwhelmed with diasters, tragedies, and burdens abroad (i.e. anywhere outside our sphere of influence) can easily lead us to ignore or miss the disasters, tragedies, and burdens of our neighbors, who are the ones we are supposed to be primarily worried about.

    So I guess idealists can be labeled ignorant depending on their ideals; it all depends on the perspective of the labeler. Which, I suddenly realize, is true for everything.

  5. *There are reasons.

    Stupid tablet at midnight missing words!

    1. Every time I use my parents' iPad I have similar problems.

      In which book did Lewis explain this?

  6. This was in several of his letters. If you are interested in slogging through some of his complete collected letters, I can try and snag you a copy. In the meantime, I'll try to find the actual passage.